COMDEX '97 Sports Electronic Wizardry

By Jacso, Peter | Information Today, February 1998 | Go to article overview

COMDEX '97 Sports Electronic Wizardry


Jacso, Peter, Information Today


It is hardly news that COMDEX in Las Vegas in November 1997 grew bigger once again, setting a new record by bringing 210,000 attendees to town. What's the magic that brings so many attendees to this monster exhibit and conference?

Magic Here, Magic There

The city burst at the seams with magic in the show lounges--David Copperfield, David Cassidy, Pen and Teller, Siegfried and Roy played to full houses, Mystique was still sold out. Journalists had a special performance just for them by Lance Burt, yet another supermagician. I may not have counted them all, as I am not a connoisseur of this genre. But, was magic offered by COMDEX itself?

Well, Magic Johnson was not there, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, magic in his own way and in sportsmanship, was--as a guest speaker of Bill Gates, in the middle of the opening night keynote of Gates. Opening night keynote? Yes, it was a novel thing, and helped one to understand why many of the industry honchos like to demonize him. Gates was not scheduled to speak at this COMDEX. At the last moment he decided to come, and it was impossible to reschedule the coveted keynote slots. So the organizers scheduled a Sunday night keynote, and just by word of mouth the news spread fast enough to fill the auditorium of the Aladdin hotel. Gates had his way and so did Microsoft, retaining its village of booths at the prime spot on the exhibit floor. IBM was not that lucky to have its way in getting the Lotus' booths next to its own.

Magic on the COMDEX Floor?

Was there magic on the exhibit floor? Yes, and no. It was magic to see everything that will come in computer technology in 1998 under one roof (actually three roofs, but such specificity would spoil the evocative image of the expression). Even though I limited myself to checking out specific information storage, retrieval, and display products, COMDEX was still overwhelming and fascinating. Shipping to Las Vegas to the exhibit halls, unpacking, and installing all these computer facilities is a wizardry of organization on its own, given the limited space and window of time. It is like the swiftest of military operations.

On the other hand, this year there was not a single product or product line that stole the show. The sheer volume and variety of high-tech wonders of information technology products were the most impressive. In previous years, I always salivated in front of Sceptre's slim LCD screens. This year we saw the gamut of brilliant flat screens and plasma panels, ranging from $2,400 to $5,000, and from 1 2-inch to 20-inch, from dozens of manufacturers. The 42-inch Plasmavision from Fujitsu can't be beat if you have the money. For really good images, of course, what you can't see also counts--the video controller. The best of the show in video controllers was offered by the aptly named Revolution 3D from Number Nine Visual Technology.

Two years ago it was awesome to see Panasonic's combined magneto-optical and CD-ROM drive built into a laptop. This year, I asked laptop manufacturers how many CD-ROM drives they had in their laptops; if the answer was two, I kept nagging, why not a DVD-ROM drive? And yes, there was one with a DVD-ROM drive built in (but you have to read further to find out who is shipping it, and for how much).

The Quasi Syndrome

Not long ago we were awed by the power of Pentiums and the power of software to play back quasi full-screen, quasi full-motion video without a hardware decompression board. Quasi is, of course, the magic word in this town of Elvis and Marilyn impersonators, faux Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, and make-believe shows. This year I just nodded when a Zoran representative showed me a software-only playback of a DVD-Video flick, in quality almost as good as on DVD-Video drives endowed with an MPEG2/Dolby decompressor board.

Some years ago TV on a PC was a big deal, offering almost TV-quality experience. …

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